Each morning when I wake up, I reach for my I-Pad and turn on SEN radio, this is followed by downloading and reading the Herald Sun and The Age (sport only). I head off for a morning run or ride and listen to podcasts from the weekend AFL games. When I reach the office, SEN remains on via my computer and then in the evening I catch on any of the AFL games I missed over the weekend by watching replays via the AFL website.
This sounds like anyone who loves their footy and lives in Melbourne, only problem is that I live in Asia, Hanoi Vietnam to be exact.
Since leaving Australia nearly four years ago I have undertaken a dual life, one where I live and work and very much enjoy. Life in Asia is manic, it is completely random and unpredictable. It is one that challenges my way of thinking, tests my communication and pushes me to adapt and accept to be successful. The other part of me is the one that still craves to be part of the AFL and the culture of footy as we all know and love. I achieve this by use of technology. The technology available to me means that the only thing I cannot physically do is attend a live game each week. Other than that I probably have more information than my mates back home. As I do not have the luxury of going to games, I have to seek information to keep abreast of the thing I love.
Every commercial television station (except Foxtel) has applications where you can get the recap of all football shows. Every radio station has either live streams or replays of sports shows to listen to. These are all free of charge to me, the only thing I pay for are the newspapers and watching live games. Through the AFL website I can watch every game live each week and replays through the week. Many people at home do not have this accessibility. So as you can see I do not have any shortfalls in information. This is something I do appreciate to stay in touch.
Playing and Umpiring AFL in Asia is alive and well, there are teams in most countries, in my time in Asia I have had involvement with the Bali Gecko’s, Malaysian Warriors and now with the Vietnam Swans. What it does take is for you to instigate communication; it does not come to you. All clubs are happy to have anyone involved, either playing or if you want to umpire. There is a genuine interest in your history as an umpire and any stories, most guys have not even spoken to anyone from an umpiring background. To have someone who is happy to umpire games with some kind of background is a great help for the club. My wife cannot believe that I continue to put myself in the situation where I can cop abuse, it keeps me involved. I always thought I knew better than the fieldies anyway, this just proves I was wrong.
There are games throughout the year, many times it requires travel as your away games are in another country. This gives you the chance to visit different places that maybe you may not have been to otherwise, it does tend to be a “footy trip” but that is OK as it is all in good spirit.
Footy bring many people together, while everyone involved is keen and competitive they are also mindful that the games are played in the right spirit.
The games are played on ovals, that most of the time are makeshift. You learn to make do, luxuries like goal posts, line markings are inconsistent but that is not important. What footy does do in Asia is bring guys together to be involved and play the sport they love.
The skills and fitness may not always be there, but you see pretty quickly the guys who could play at one stage in their life, they do not lose their ability just the fitness to execute it consistently. You will find many guys from other sports, lots of Irishmen who just want a run, rugby boys who may not get to the footy but they sure can tackle.
Last year I attended the Asian championships in Pattaya Thailand, nine countries from around Asia competed in a lightning carnival, I ended up umpiring eight games for the day. Apparently guys from Perth used to fly up and umpire for them but they wanted all expenses paid this time, sorry Asian footy is not flush with money….it is for the fun.
There is a great deal of support from the AFL, there is genuine interest in what is going on, Mike Fitzpatrick wrote recently for the ANZAC record. While there may be no financial support, it is great to have their interest and acknowledgement.
The highlight for me clearly has been my involvement with the ANZAC games. Each year the Vietnam Swans play a friendship game against another team, this year it was the Jakarta Bintangs. The game is played on the same site where during the conflict the diggers played a league amongst themselves for about 5 years. The ground is located on a grey hound track in the town of Vungtau, about 60km south of Saigon. This is where the diggers went for R&R, it is not far from where the battle of Long Tan took place. Many Vietnam veterans live in the area, have made their life there and come to be part of it. Each year you will see guys return with the families to be part of it. We have all the things Anzac day has, national anthems, minute silence, big crowd (for Asian footy) and highly competitive, spirited contest. It is an honour to be part of this special occasion, there are similar games played in other sites in Asia where Australians fought during different conflicts.
While nothing will ever make up for being part of the AFL, it is great to be part of it in someway. During your time in the AFL it becomes part of you, I used to live and breathe umpiring. My wife used to riddle me that I spend two hours at training on a Tuesday and Thursday each week and would be still be on the phone to Jano or Hutton as I walked in the door, “what do you have to talk about” she would exclaim.
Footy never leaves you if you keep involved, even if it is in a place where the locals have no idea what you are on about or the game is about.